Can the Master’s Tools Dismantle the Master’s House?

Introducing Literary Criticism A Graphic - Owen Holland 2015

Can the Master’s Tools Dismantle the Master’s House?

This situation presents a political and strategic problem for colonial peoples about whether to appropriate the culture of the mother country or to reject it entirely in order to assert political, cultural and national autonomy.

Fanon was initially influenced by the writing of Aimé Césaire (1913—2008), a founder of the negritude movement: a separatist celebration of black culture in francophone literature. Césaire had taught Fanon in Martinique, and his Discourse on Colonialism (1950) examines the antagonism between colonizers and colonized.

The colonial project justifies itself as a “civilizing mission”, but its motivations were not at all generous or high-minded. Rather, the colonial project was about economic exploitation, backed up with frequent violence.


It is equally necessary to decolonize our minds, our inner life, at the same time that we decolonize society.

Colonial domination mirrors the relationship between the bourgeois and proletariat in classical Marxist theory. Postcolonial criticism derives partly from the Marxist critique of imperialism and colonialism, although not all postcolonial critics would choose to identify as Marxists.

That this economic relationship between metropole and colony also had a cultural dimension was one of the factors that led to the Havana Tricontinental conference of 1966 and subsequent journal Tricontinental, which aimed to ally the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America against imperialism and to develop the political element of postcolonial studies.


In 1989, Bill Ashcroft (b. 1946), Gareth Griffiths (b. 1943) and Helen Tiffin (b. 1945) collaborated to produce The Empire Writes Back, which theorized the importance of postcolonialism for the study of literature, concentrating particularly on the work of Lewis Nkosi (1936—2010), V.S. Naipaul (b. 1932), Michael Anthony (b. 1930), Timothy Findley (1930—2002), Janet Frame (1924—2004) and R.K. Narayan (1906—2001).


We use the term “postcolonial” to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process, from the moment of colonization to the present day.

The importance of the literary canon in perpetuating a form of Western cultural imperialism was challenged by the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (b. 1938) in his essay “On the Abolition of the English Department” (1968).

The critical contribution of postcolonial studies falls broadly into three main areas:

1. The critique of Eurocentrism

2. The critique of nationalism (even its anti-colonial varieties)

3. The theorization of the subaltern* or subalternity (see here).

We can think about these three ideas with reference to the work of the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said (1935—2003) and the Indian-born critics Homi K. Bhaba (b. 1949) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (b. 1942), all of whom have had a wide-reaching influence within literary studies.

Such approaches have helped further critical understanding of the cultural, political and economic legacies of colonialism and de-colonization.


But while we seek to represent the perspective of the colonized —

— As intellectuals living in the metropole, can we legitimately claim to do so?